12 September 2013

The MacConroys in Iar Connacht

For a thousand years, the Delbna in Tir Dha Locha and their followers were ruled by the dynasty that became the MacConroys, who lived alongside and had apparently good relations with the Conmaicne Mara, whose chiefs became the O’Kealys, to their west.

To put that into perspective, that is more than four times the existence of the United States of America, as of 2013.  It is three centuries longer than the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde, the longest-lasting of the kingdoms of the “Old North” in Britain and most successful of the sub-Roman British kingdoms if you don’t count Scotland, which stands on the foundation of the “Pictish” Verturiones and Caledones who stoutly resisted Roman attempts to plant a permanent presence north of the Firths.

Other than their O’Kealy neighbors to the west, and possibly the O’Malleys of Tir Umhall to the northwest, the MacConroys ruled longer than any other Irish family on the island, including the O’Donnells of Tir Connaill, who were not independent until the 12th century, and the O’Neills of Tir Eoghan, who only gained the ascendancy after the downfall of their MacLochlain cousins in the same century.

The MacConroys (Mac Con Raoi, “Son of the Battle Hound”) in h-Iar Connacht  were the kings of the Delbhna Tir Dha Locha (Delbhna of the Land of the Two Lakes), Muintir Conraoi, and Baile Mheic Conraoi (Ballymaconry).  Their tuatha was also called Delbhna Feadha/Fiodh (Delbhna of the Woods) though these may date after their westward emigration to the far reaches of Connemara in western Iar Connacht.  The family was also called Clan Mheic Con Raoi and Muintir Conraoi, though references to them by these terms are rare.  

An older name for Tir Dha Locha itself was Gno.  Three of the most famous poets of ancient pagan Connacht—Dorban, Flaithcius, and Onegus an Filidh—were from Gno.

The domain lay between Loch Orbsen (Loch Corrib) and Loch Lurgan (Galway Bay) coextensive with the later barony of Moycullen, between the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair in Maigh Seola to the east in the later barony of Clare and the Conmaicne Mara to the west in the later barony of Ballynahinch and a sept of the Partraige an t-Sleibh in the later barony of Ross which was then known as Ui Oirbsen.  The territory covers 145.1 km², 35,851.1 acres, or 56.0 mi2.  At the time of the Indenture of Composition in 1585, the barony of Moycullen was composed of fifty-two townlands (now 388).  By comparison, the barony of Ballynahinch then took in thirty-three townlands and the barony of Ross just nine.

Judging from the huge number of primitive churches, the largest of any of the ancient tribes of Iar Connacht, it must have also been quite populous and probably prosperous also.  Its ruler would have ranked as a ri buiden (“king of bands”), also known as ri tuath (“king of many tribes”) and ruiri (“overking”), thus equal in rank to their neighbors across Loch Orbsen, the O’Flahertys, though of lesser status since the Delbhna were fortuatha (a free but tribute-paying tribe) while the Ui Bruin Seola, of which the O’Flahertys were the lead sept, were saortuatha (a free tribe as a sept of the ruling tribe of the province).  

I refer to my ancestors here as the MacConroys “in h-Iar Connacht” rather than “of h-Iar Connacht” or “of Tir Dha Locha” for two reasons: first, while they always held territory in Iar Connacht, they were never rulers of the whole, and, second, while they ruled Tir Dha Locha unmolested for centuries, perhaps a millennium, they relocated in the 13th century to escape direct rule by the O’Flahertys.

Historically and in Irish law from ancient times, Ireland was divided between five kingdoms, or provinces, each with its own king:  Midhe (Meath), Connacht, Uliadh (Ulster), Laighin (Leinster), and Mumhan (Munster).  Over the five was the nominal High King at Tara in the heart of Meath, but his authority was mostly ceremonial.  Often, the High King was also king of one of the provinces, such as when the O’Briens and O’Connors held the office.  Below each provincial king were a number of overkings over several tuatha, the basic unit of life in Ireland, each of which had its own king (ri in Irish).

In earliest recorded history, the kingdom, or province (coiced, i.e. “fifth”) from the perspective of Ireland as a whole, of Connacht was known as Ol nEchmacht, after the then dominant group of dynastys, of which there were three:  the leading sept, the Gamanraige, ruling from the River Galway to the rivers Duff and Drowes from the famous citadel at Cruachan, the Fir Craibe to the south of them, and the Tuatha Taiden in roughly the later Ui Maine. 

It seems the western districts beyond the line of the River Galway, at least the southern part of that region, were left to their own devices, likely one reason a branch of the Delbhna chose to relocate to Tir Dha Locha in the first place after the breakup of the Delbhna overkingdom, which may have happened because of the rise of the Fir Ol nEchmacht. 

Before the rise of the Fir nEchmachta, the later Delbhna Tir Dha Locha had belonged to a single tribal domain that probably dominated most of central Ireland along with the seven other branches (such as the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair above)  into which they divided early in historical times.  The Delbhna together as a group were one of those termed “Fortuatha” in the early historic period, populations and dynasties that had once ruled their regions before the rise of the new tribes and remained free of direct rule of the conquerors.  The Partraige (which had three branches) and the Conmaicne (which had at least seven) were also Fortuatha, along with a little over a dozen other groups.

The Delbhna Tir Dha Locha’s autonomy did not change a great deal with the 5th century rise of the Connachta, descended from Conn Cetchathach (“of the Hundred Battles”), High King of Ireland in the 2nd century.  The Connachta divided into four branches, one of which became the Ui Neill of western Ulster and Meath with the remaining three, Ui Briuin, Ui Fiacrach, and Ui Ailello, giving their collective name to the province.

The ascension of the Connachta had the most effect on the Delbhna Tir Da Locha through the group of the Ui Briuin who conquered Moyseola and deposed their cousins of Delbhna Cuile Fabhair as rulers.  As before, however, those in Tir Da Locha maintained a more or less independent existence along with the Conmaicne Mara to the west and the Ui Orbsen branch of the Partraige an t-Sleibh to the north. 

In terms of geography, Iar (West) Connacht is confined to the region west of the River Galway; those territories to the east of the River Galway belong to Upper Connacht.  It includes the modern baronies of Galway, Moycullen, Ballynahinch, Ross, and Aran.  At the time the term first began being used, however, when the chiefs of Ui Briuin Seola first began being called Ri h-Iar Connacht, the term also took in the modern baronies of Kilmain (Conmaicne Cuile Toland), Clare (Moyseola, or Maigh Seola), Dunkellin (Clan Fearghaill).  Those three territories were lost to that family in 1238; Aran wasn’t added until 1582.

According to Seán O Dubhagain, chief ollamh of Ui Maine in the mid-fourteenth centurythe dynasty that became the MacConroys ruled directly over a territory called Gnomore (Gno Mor) in the west of Tir Da Locha, while the family that became the O’Heynys (O'hAdhnaidh) ruled over the southeastern third known as Gnobeg (Gno Beag).  As O’Dugan wrote in his famous topographical poem:

Mac Conroi possesses in peace
Gno Mor of the numerous harbors
O’hAdhnaidh on Gno Beg the lasting
A nest not indigent or perishable

The reality was a bit different.  The division O’Dugan attributes to the Land of the Two Lakes was an anarchronism dating from no earlier than the second generation of occupation by the O’Flahertys of the land west of Loch Orbsen, when the eastern junior branch itself divided into two.

In the various annals, the MacConroys are always referred to as Ri (king) or Tighearna (Lord) of Tir Da Locha and were the dominant rulers of the territory as a whole.  Their title as chief of their name was Mac Mheic Con Raoi (“son of the son of the hound of the battlefield”).  His seat in Tir Dha Locha may have been called Druim Leith.  The sole notice that the 17th century “Four Masters” saw fit to take from their original sources to include in their unified annals referred to the death of “Mac Mheic Conraoi, tighearna Delbhna Tir Dha Locha” in 1142.

The southern family probably originated as erenaghs of the abbey of St. Enda at Ballynspiddal, to which were attached at least three daughter churches.  The name of the family was probably O’hEannaidh (or O’Heaney) rather than O’Adhnaidh (or O’Heyny).

Under ancient Irish law, the proper title of the Mac Mheic Conraoi in the 12th century was ri, or king, rather than tighearna, or lord, as the Four Masters put it.

The Delbhna Tir Dha Locha remained largely independent of outside interference long after their fellow Delbhna came under the rule of other groups.  Ruling a considerable amount of shoreline along Loch Lurgan as well as dominating Kilkieran Bay, the MacConroys were counted among the sea-kings (which means smugglers and pirates as often as fishermen or traders, if the truth be told) of Connacht, the others being the O’Malleys of Tir Umhall, the O’Dowds of Tuaisceart Connacht, and the O’Flahertys of Muintir Murchada in Magh Seola.

The O’Briens of Thomond in Munster were another major sea-faring dynasty in the vicinity, often dominating Loch Lurgan from the base of the MacTeige O’Briens in the Aran Islands to which Teige, son of Brien Borumha, had relocated about 1118.  Before he arrived, the islands belonged to the a sept called the Eoghanachta Ninussa, who had taken them from the Ui Fiachrach Aidne in the 8th century.  The Teige O’Briens were bitter rivals of the later antagonists of the MacConroys, the O’Flahertys, and may have been sometime partners with the former; more about that later.

Tir Da Locha was roughly coextensive with the modern barony of Moycullen, which takes  in the modern civil parishes of Kilcummin, Killanin, Moycullen, and Rahoon (note: these are different from the church parishes).  When first established, the barony of Moycullen included the parishes of Galway (the area outside the walls, formerly Clan Cosgraig) and the parish of Killinkelly, centered on the Carraroe Peninsula and taking in Gorumna and Lettermullen Islands.  The former now makes up the coextensive parish and barony of Galway along with the town, while the latter was merged into the parish of Killannin.

The later O’Flaherty territory of Gnomore took in the civil parishes of Kilcummin (67 on the map) and Killannin (61 on the map).  Gnobeg was made up of the later civil parishes of Rahoon (122 on the map) and Moycullen (107 on the map). 

The ancient church of Kilcummin lies in the civil parish of the same name, dedicated to the 7th century St. Cuimin.  Until Irish monasteries became Romanized in the 12th century, St. Cuimin’s monastery was the center of Christianity in Tir Dha Locha.  St. Cuimin was for centuries the main patron saint of the MacConroys and his feast day is 14 October. 

The other major patron saint of the Delbhna Tir Dha Locha was the 6th century St. Anhin, a contemporary companion of Patrick of Armagh, whose feast day is 18 January.  Others included St. Mocan, founder of the abbey at Barraderry, St. Colmcille, founder of the abbey at Cloghmore, and St. Coelan, founder of the monastery on Inishgarraunmore Island.

Other families in Delbhna Tir Dha Locha prior to the 13th century included the McAneaves (Mac an Naomh, “son of the Saint”, or Mac Giolla an Naomh, “son of the servant of the Saint”), who later anglicized their name as Forde, probably erenaghs of Cloghmore.

Next door to the west, the chiefs of the Conmaicne Mara were the O’Kealys, and their cadets were the MacConneelys, O’Devaneys, and O’Clohertys, with the O’Falons as their hereditary brehons.  To the north, in the country called Ui Oirbsen between Loch Oirbsen and Loch Measg, lived the Partraige an t-Sleibh, whose chiefs were the O’Kynes, next-door to their cousins the Partraige Locha, whose chiefs were the O’Dorcys, in whose territory lay the Abbey of Cong.

Until around 925, the annals refer to the O’Flahertys exclusively as kings of Ui Briuin Seola and do not consistently call them kings of Iar Connacht until the 11th century.

In 1049, Rory O’Connor moved his seat from the ancient capital of Cruachan to Tuam in Deisiceart Connacht, the territory of the O’Kellys of Ui Maine, in large part to keep the O’Flahertys in check.  It remained the capital of Connacht, and of all Ireland after the succession of his son, Turlough, until the English invasion.

In 1124, The O’Flaherty built Castle Galway at the mouth of the river into Loch Lurgan.  It was the one of the first three Norman-style castles built in Ireland and the first in Connacht.

Though they are mentioned by various other sources, mostly in lists of local kings, the sole mention of the MacConroys in the Annals of the Four Masters  is the following:  “Mac Conroi, lord of Delbhna Tir Dha Locha, killed, 1142.”

Connacht was the only one of the five provinces in Ireland that remained unconquered after the invasion by Henry II of England in 1171.  The Anglo-Normans and their allies attempted to take the province in 1177 but were handily repulsed.

The Crown ordered the authorities in Ireland to give the province to Richard de Burgo in 1225, and he moved into the area to take possession.  He met with stiff resistance.  After taking the Castle Galway in 1232, he made it his seat.

In 1238, following their defeat in a war against the forces of Hugh O’Connor and Richard de Burgo, ancestor of the Burkes, the O’Flahertys of Moy Seola and their allies the O’Hallorans of Clan Feargail and the MacAodhs (Hughes) of Clan Cosgraig were forced west of the River Galway, along with their followers the O’Duans, the O’Lees, the O’Donnells, and the O’Canavans. 

The Burkes founded the Earldom of Clanrickard in their newly won territory and Iar Connacht was reduced to Gnomore, Gnobeg, Connemara, and Ui Oirbsen.

The senior O’Flaherty, chief of the Sliocht Eoghan branch, made his home at Ballynahinch in Connemara, later building another at Bunowen along Galway Bay.  Junior branches of the family took the territories of Gnomore (Sliocht Murrough) and Gnobeg (Sliocht Gilleduff).  This, in truth, is probably the origin of the territories by these names.  Loch Lonan (later called Loch Ross and most recently Loch Buffy) north of the later castle and village of Moycullen (Maigh Cuilin) and the Aille River entering Loch Lurgan between the villages of Spiddal (An Spidéal) and Inverin (Indreabháin) are the principal features which divide Gnomore and Gnobeg.

Meanwhile, the O’Hallorans settled both Gnomore and Gnobeg.  The O’Lees initially settled along the western shore of Loch Corrib.  The O’Duans settled in the Renvyle Peninsula, followed by the O’Lees after the mid-13th century.

Displaced from the territory they had held for over a millennium, the MacConroys relocated to the far western reaches of Connemara, settling the country between Mannin and Barratrough (Streamstown) Bays, which came to known as Ballymaconry, with their seat on Ballyconry Peninsula.  Though much smaller than Tir Da Locha, this was still a huge territory, including the south shores of Barratrough Bay, the entirety of Ballyconry (Kingstown) Bay and Ardbear (Clifden) Bay, and at least the north shore of Mannin Bay, as well the peninsula of Errislanan.  

Their new home bordered Ballyconneely on the eponymous peninsula, home of the MacConneelys, eldest cadets of the O’Kealy kings of the Conmaicne Mara.

Some of the family established another settlement called Ballyconry in Thomond, now Co. Clare, in the territory called Boireann (now the barony of Burren), which was ruled by the O’Lochlainns formerly of the Corco Mruad (Ballyconry, Ballyvaughn, Burren, Clare). 

With a sea base at the west end of Connemara near the mouth of Loch Lurgan and another at its head in the territory of Thomond, the MacConroys were well-placed to carry on their dealings with the Teige O’Briens in Aran, if such dealings existed.

Their cadets, the O’Heaneys, meanwhile, settled a wide stretch of country on the remote Cleggan and Renvyle Peninsulas, the latter in the shadow of Tir Umhaill of the O’Malleys. 

Or, rather than after the O’Flaherty invasion, the two families may have decided to move after Walter de Burgo, the lord of all Connacht and Earl of Ulster, thoroughly ravaged the territories west of Loch Orbsen to punish the O’Flahertys and their followers for their attempts to regain their lost territories east of River Galway in 1256.  Afterwards, he built several castles along the western shore of Loch Corrib, which eventually fell to the O’Flahertys.

Meanwhile, the O’Kealys, the chiefs of Conmaicne Mara, relocated to Ui Oirbsen, but they were to find themselves imposed upon again after just a few decades.  The MacConneelys stayed in their home at Ballyconneely Peninsula, but soon found themselves neighbors of the O’Flahertys.

In 1283, a Cambro-Norman knight named Thomas de Joyce fled Wales after taking part in a rebellion against Edward I of England, and landing in Thomond, married the daughter of the O’Brien ruler there.  Sailing up the coast, he landed in Gnomore and was granted the land of Ui Orbsen by The O’Flaherty, which soon became known as Duiche Sheoighe, or Joyce Country. 

Though many of their followers used the family names of Joyce and Walsh, their chiefs used the Gaelic style MacThomas while their cadets were the MacTybods.  Joyce’s son Edmund MacMara, the first MacThomas, married Elizabeth O’Flaherty and gained what is now the parish of Ballynakill.

In the early 1300’s, the O’Flahertys granted a sizable band of the O’Tooles from Leinster fleeing their own fratricidal struggles the island of Omey nearby Ballymaconry.

Soon after this, the O’Heaneys relocated again, migrating east across the River Galway to just the other side of the river, settling in Claregalway.  They became very loyal followers of the Clanrickard Burkes, the most bitter enemies of their O’Flaherty antagonists.

Tired of being caught up in the internecine struggles of the Burkes of Clanrickard, the leading merchants of the town of Galway petitioned the Crown to become a free city in 1333, which it did, becoming the only city in Connacht during the Middle Ages.  It was ruled by an oligarchy of twelve Anglo- and Cambro-Norman familes and two native Irish families who assimilated.  Later known as the Tribes of Galway, they kept to themselves and mostly stayed inside their walls.

Warfare between the Joyces and O’Flahertys devastated much of the land and population of Iar Connacht throughout the entire 16th century.  It was in one of their battles, over what is now known as Hen’s Castle on an island in Loch Corrib, that Donal an Chogaidh O’Flaherty, husband of Grainne Ni Maille, was killed.  The O’Flahertys added to their own casualties by fighting amongst themselves, the eastern branches against the western branch and the branch in Gnomore against that in Gnobeg.

In the mid-to-late 1500’s, many MacConroys served in the crews of pirate ships and as land raiders in the fleet of Granuaille, Grainne Ni Mhaille or Grace O’Malley, alongside O’Flahertys, O'Malleys, Burkes, MacCormacks, MacNallys, MacDonnells, and MacSweeneys.

Tioboid na Caislean (“of the Castles”),  11th MacThomas (chief of the Joyces), built Castle Doon sometime after 1574 on Barratrough Bay directly across from Ballyconry Peninsula.  Up to this time, the MacConroys had been relatively unmolested in Ballymaconry, and may have remained so as there is no record of any hostilities between them and the Joyces at any time.

Co. Galway was established in 1576 in the aftermath of the Tudor conquest along with the other counties in Connacht.    Shortly after this, the Martins of Galway City purchased land from the O’Flahertys of Moycullen beside Lake Ross, becoming the first of the Tribes of Galway to move outside the city.

The O’Flahertys and their allies invaded the Aran Islands in 1582 and drove out the ruling chief, MacDonell MacTurlough O’Brien, and his family.  They were descended from Teige O’Brien, son of Brian Boru, and had ruled the territory since 1018.  The islands had long served as a bastion for such activities as smuggling, pirating, trading, and coastal raiding by its inhabitants, one of their favorite targets being their cousins in Thomond.

In 1585, the former Delbhna Tir Dha Locha territories of Gnomore and Gnobeg in possession of rival branches of the O’Flahertys were joined together along with Loch Corrib and the districts of Clan Cosgraige (the parish of Galway outside the walls) and Killinkelly (Carraroe Peninsula) as the barony of Moycullen, while that in which their more recent home lay, Connemara, became the barony of Ballynahinch.  Joyce Country became the barony of Ross.  The islands in Galway Bay—Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer—which were only recently added to Iar Connacht became the barony of Aran.

The document describing the change was called the Indenture of Composition, and was supposed to be an agreement between the leaders of Iar Connacht to give up their Irish titles and lands and receive back their lands from the Crown along with “proper” English titles.  It lists as parties to the transition several branches of O’Flahertys, those of Aghenenure Castle (Gnomore), of Moycullen Castle (Gnobeg), Connemara (the head of the western O’Flahertys at Ballynahinch Castle), of Bunowen Castle, and a few other leading members of the clan. 

Before listing a number of leading gentlemen of Iar Connacht important enough to make the role, Indenture lists, by surname only, five chiefs of their name:  MacThomas, O’Halloran, MacConroy (giving the name as “McEnry”), MacDonough, and MacConnor.  The last two of these were septs which split off from the O’Flahertys (there two more of those, MacDermot and MacHughes, different from those of Clan Cosraig, not listed), leaving just three men not related to that family considered important enough in Iar Connacht to be included as chief of their name, which demonstrates the stature which the Mac Mheic Mac Conraoi still maintained.

All of the Irish parties listed in the Indenture refused to conform, by the way, with the exception of Murrough O’Flaherty of Aghenenure, by this time in Fough Castle, who had collaborated with the Ascendancy authorities in the first place.  Murrough was, in fact, chief of all the O’Flahertys at that time only because Elizabeth had declared him so, and none of the other leading members of the clan recognized him as such.  After his death, the primacy in the family returned to the O’Flahertys of Moycullen Castle.

Around 1600, Dubhdara MacConroy, then chief of the name, built the Church of Kill (probably Church “of the Woods”, or “Cill Coill” in Irish) across Bauratrough Bay from Doon Castle.  He was later murdered by the O’Flaherty who lived there after its acquisition by his family.

A court inquisition in 1607 includes the following as leading chiefs of name in the barony of Ballynahinch:  O’Flaherty of Bunowen, MacConroy, MacConnor, MacDonough, O’Duan, O’Lee, and MacConneely.  Here again we have the MacConroys mentioned prominently.  The next two, MacConnor and MacDonough, are chiefs of branches that separated from the O’Flahertys, while the two after that, O’Duan and O’Lee, headed old followers of that family.  The MacConneelys were the eldest cadets of the O’Kealys of Conmaicne Mara.

The western O’Flahertys  purchased Castle Renvyle from the O’Hallorans, who had bought it from the MacTybod Joyces, in 1614, and may have acquired Castle Doon at the same time.

Because of their isolation, the peoples of Iar Connacht, including the MacConroys, managed to maintain their native Gaelic culture and language and the system of Brehon Laws longer than anywhere else on the island, even longer than western Ulster.  This was especially true in Connemara, ruled by the Sliocht Eoghan branch of the O’Flahertys.  Gaelic Ulster fell after the so-called Flight of the Earls in 1607 while Gaelic h-Iar Connacht lasted until 1625, when its inhabitants were finally brought to heel.  It remains the strongest part of the Gaeltacht of Ireland where Gaelic is the everyday language.

The Irish Confederate Wars of 1641-1653 changed the landscape of the Irish forever.  The O’Flahertys, Burkes, and Joyces were heavily involved on the Confederate side, and in a switch from their abstinence in Irish affairs, so were the Tribes of Galway.  All those who fought on the side of the Confederation and even those who had stood by were dispossessed.  The O’Flahertys were kings of Iar Connacht no more.  The only head of a branch with land left was the one in the barony of Aran of the island of Inishmore.

Art MacGeoghegan, a dispossessed lord from Co. Westmeath, was granted the former O’Flaherty possession of Castle Bunowen on Ballyconneely Peninsula and its lands.  The MacGeoghegans were a branch of the southern Ui Neill and later changed their name to O’Neill when they became Protestants later in the century after the Williamite Wars.

The Martins of Ross (the lake, not the barony) in Moycullen, though dispossessed of their holdings in Galway City after the Wars, were granted the rest of the O’Flaherty lands in the barony of Ballynahinch, including the castle of the same name, plus enough additional lands that they were then, with over 250,000 acres, the largest single landowners in the British Isles.  They made their seat at Ballynahinch Castle, former seat of the western O’Flahertys.  One of the Martins of Ballynahinch founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in London in 1824.

At the close of the Wars, when Cromwell sent the Irish “to Hell or Connaught”, he ordered the entire population of Ulster minus the counties of Antrim and Down to be transported to Iar Connacht (he sent those from the rest of Ireland to other parts of the province).  Connacht went from being the most sparsely populated province of Ireland to its most densely populous.  In the neighborhood of Ballymaconry, the Brownes and the Darcys, formerly of the Tribes of Galway, were settled in Omey Island, joining and overwhelming its O’Toole residents.

Largely due to the overcrowding after the refugees from Cromwell’s vindictive wrath crammed into the province, Connacht, and especially h-Iar Connacht, suffered most from famine, death, and emigration during the 1840’s when the Great Hunger struck.

By the 19th century, almost all members of the family had Anglicized their name to King and Ballymaconry became known as Kingstown.  In the early 20th century, styles changed and the family used the Anglicization “Conroy”.

The name of the family lives on in the landscape as the townland of Kingstown Glebe, called Bail ‘ic Conroi in Irish (anglicized as Ballymaconry),  or simply Kingstown, in Omey civil parish, Ballynahinch barony, Co. Galway.  The townland is a mere 78 acres; a “glebe” is a portion of land set aside for the maintenance of a priest or a church, so that must be its origin.  The entire peninsula on which the townland of Kingstown Glebe sits is named the Ballyconry (Kingstown) Peninsula, between Ardbear (Clifden) Bay to the south and Bauratrough Bay to the north.

There is a holy well the locals call Tobar Muire on the south of Ballymaconry at the north edge of Curraun Loch.  In the townland to the west, Eyrefort, there is a Viking burial and is, or was, a clachan nearby.  Two townlands to the east is a promontory fort, probably dating back to the Iron Age.  In the townland of Bauratrough (Streamstown), the same townland that hosts the old church of Ath Dearg, there are two ringforts, likewise dating back to the Iron Age.

Kingstown Bay, which pierces the end of the peninsula in the west, forms the north border of the townland of Kingstown Glebe, while Curraun Loch, an “arm of the sea” or sea-loch connected to Ardbear Bay by a small inlet called Gub Ardmore, borders it on the south.  Kingstown Glebe lies between the townlands of Eyreforth on the west and Knockavilly on the east.  The small Kill (Coolacloy) Peninsula, itself part of Ballyconry Peninsula, forms the north border of the bay.

Inishturk and Turbot Island lie off the end of Ballyconry Peninsula, to the west and southwest respectively; the tiny Eeshel Island lies south and west of Inishturk.  The townland of Ardmore which encloses Curran Loch is actually a tidal island, an island at high tide, part of the peninsula at low tide.  The famous Omey Island, where the 6th century St. Fechin founded one of his many abbeys, lies a bit northwest of the Ballyconry Peninsula opposite the mouth of Streamstown Bay.

St. Fechin is the patron saint of Omey civil parish in which Kingstown Glebe lies.  Since the O’Flahertys adopted Cummin and Anhin as their patrons when they crossed River Galway in the 13th century, it’s likely the MacConroys did the same with St. Fechin.

There is also a point (of land) between the townlands of Kill and Knockavilly at the head of Kingstown Bay called Coolballymaconry.  Kingstown School lies just inside the townland of Kill on Ballyconry Peninsula coming from Knockavally on Sky Road, and Ballymaconry School once stood between the townlands of Kingstown Glebe and Knockavally.

The Irish word “baile”, which forms the first part of the name “Ballymacconry”, had different meanings throughout ancient and medieval Ireland, but in general referred to the land holding of a sept, some as big as 16 townlands (which, by the way, vary widely in size).  Considering that the Mac Mheic Con Raoi was considered important enough as late as 1585 that he was one of only three chiefs of his name not related to the O’Flahertys included in the Crown’s Indenture of Composition for Iar Connacht, it’s not surprising that the name Ballymaconry once applied to a far greater breadth of holdings than the tiny modern townland of Kingstown Glebe might suggest.

There are two townlands named Ballyconry in the barony of Burren in Co. Clare.  One is some distance inland in the parish of Carran and is probably named for the MacConry family native to the region.  The other Ballyconry, however, lies near the shore of Ballyvaughan Bay on Loch Lurgan in the coastal parish of Drumcreehy, on 789 acres of land, and was home to the refugees from Tir Da Locha in the 13th century.

Interestingly, there is a holy well in the townland of Knocknacarragh in Rahoon parish called Tobermaconry, or more properly Tobar Mac Conraoi.  It lies near the coastline about halfway between the village of Barna and Galway Town.  Clearly the name dates before the arrival of the O’Flahertys in the 13th century as well as after the adoption of patronymic surnames.

Beginning in 1700, the west of Ireland, especially Connemara, became the major center for smuggling between the Isles and the Continent, primarily because the residents had a centuries, maybe even millennia, long head start. 

Ballyconry Peninsula’s northern border of Barratrough (Streamstown) Bay, along with its neighboring bays, coves, harbors, inlets, and sea-lochs,  had a rather notorious reputation for smuggling and pirating, one of the most famous local practitioners being Capt. George O’Malley in the early 1800’s.  There is even an inn in the town of Clifden called Smugglers’ Lodge.

I have little doubt that the MacConroys, who were already counted as sea-kings of Connacht, engaged in such outlaw activity along with those more legitimate such as fishing and trading after being ejected from their former millennium-long home in Tir Da Locha, and probably even before that.

Whenever you do research and discover your ancestors were pirates and smugglers and other manners of outlaws and scoundrels, it’s a good day.  A damn good day indeed.


Crichaireacht cinedach nduchasa Muintiri Murchada, a tract listing the territories and chiefs of Muintir Murchada before the expulsion of the O’Flahertys, c. 12th century

The Four Masters, The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, compiled 1632-1636

Roderic O’Flaherty,  A Chorographic Description of West or h-Iar Connaught, 1684

James Fraser, Guide Through Ireland, Descriptive of its Scenery, Towns, Seats, Antiquities, Etc., with Various Statistical Tables, also an Outline of its Mineral Structure, and a Brief View of its Botany, 1838

James Hardiman, “A Chorographical Description of West or H-IAR Connaught Written A. D. 1684, Edited, from a Ms. In the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, with Notes and Illustrations”, Journal of the Irish Archaeological Society, 1848

John O’Hart, Irish Pedigrees, or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, 1892

J.P. Nolan, “Galway Castles and Owners in 1574”, complied by Lord Deputy Sydney, Journal of the Galway Historical and Archaeological Society, 1901

J. Fahey, “The Flight of the O’Flahertys, Lords of Moyseola, to Iar Connaught”, Journal of the Royal Society of the Antiquities of Ireland, 1902

E. W. Lynam, “The O’Flaherty Country”, in Studies, an Irish Quarterly Review, 1914

Lord Killanin, “Notes on Some of the Antiquities in the Barony of Moycullen, Co. Galway”, Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, 1947

Lord Killanin, “Notes on Some of the Antiquities in the Barony of Ballynahinch, Co. Galway”, Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, 1953

 “Placenames in the Civil Parish of Kilcummin”, Galway Library website

“Placenames in the Civil Parish of Killannin”, Galway Library website

 “Placenames in the Civil Parish of Moycullen”, Galway Library website

 “Placenames in the Civil Parish of Omey”, Galway Library website

 “Placenames in the Civil Parish of Rahoon”, Galway Library website

 “Ireland’s History in Maps”, website

Curran Loch, viewed from Lower Sky Road, Ballymaconry, Omey, Connemara


Anonymous said...

Well researched article! Just found this while searching on Orbsen. Thank you and best wishes from the edge of Gnó Mór/Beg. Dominic Ó Ceallaigh

Chuck Hamilton said...

Hey, Dominic, just saw your comment; thank you very much. Chuck Hamilton, aka Cathal MacConraoi